WBG Score: 7.5
Player Count: 2-4
Published by: Helvetiq
Designed by: Isaac Pante
Barracudas are not the most enticing thing when it comes to swimming, but they certainly do evoke intrigue. There is something mystical about fish with teeth. Especially the long wriggly ones that look like snakes, they are strangely captivating.
Well, thankfully there are no Barracudas here. Only Barrakudas, which are totally different. I promise.
Barrakuda is a push-your-luck, bluffing game, with some very clever hand management thrown in for good measure. For such a small box, there sure are a lot of mechanisms here. Let's get it to the table.
The game comes with six starting cards to build the ship wreck area. There are 12 cards in total to chose from, but the rules recommend to play your first game with the starting ones, clearly marked as such on the back. You can lay them out anyway you desire, so long as they all touch at least one other card with one of their four sides.
Each player then choses which colour they want to be and takes the six cards of their colour, plus their two coin holding cards and meeple. Place the coins in a central space alongside the two dice, and each players take two coins to start with. And that't it, you are ready to dive.
How to Play
All players will then pick one of their six cards to play. Everyone starts with the same cards. A one, two, three, four, five, and Barrakuda card. Which ever card you play determines which space on the board your meeple will visit that round. There are some more obvious choices with higher rewards, or useful powers, depending on the stage of the game. But you don;t want to go there when another player is heading the same way as your actions will be restricted. This is where the bluffing comes in.
Everyone plays at the same time, revealing their card on the count of three. Players will then move their meeple to the card they played. The two dice are then rolled and the Barrakuda is moved in the direction of the card rolled on the regular D6, the number of spaces the movement dice shows.
Any player who is left on a space on their own, with no other meeple or the Barrakuda, can then take both actions on the card shown on the bottom left and right of the card. Generally this is how you get coins and your cards back that you had previously laid. But there are some other special actions too. Such as being able to store any money you have and forcing another player to lose their Barrakuda card.
If you are on the same space at the Barrakuda, then you most give up all of your unsecured money, and drop up to four coins on the space you are on and any more you may be carrying into the reserve. You can then only do the general action on the bottom right of the card.
Anyone who is on a space with another meeple needs to identify who has the initiative. This is determined by the player who has played the least amount of cards down on the table at this point. That player can then take both actions on the card they are on. Any other player can only take the general action.
As you play cards down, they must stay on the table. Any subsequent cards are played on top. You can only take cards back when you move to a card that allows this, or after you have played all your cards.
When someone plays a Barrakuda card they can then move the Barrakuda in any direction they wish. They do not have to roll the direction die, just the distance die to determine how far they can move it. Their aim obviously is to move it towards the nearest other player.
As you collect money from the different ship wrecks, you will place all your money onto your cash card. But, when you visit the number one space you can move up to seven coins to your safe, or all of them if you are using the alternative One card. This money is now secure and safe from any Barrakuda attacks. In order to win the game you need to have eight or more money in your vault.
You can play to 10 gold if you want a longer game, and there are different ways to set up the board to create a more or less aggressive games. And there is also a team mode where all players share a single vault. Players can discuss which cards they are playing before they select one each round, and players are looking to get 12 gold coins as a collective.
Playing Barrakuda is a lot of fun. I enjoy push your luck games where you have some control. I like the feeling where you know you can take calculated risks. That is exactly what happens here. You know where you are on the board. You know where the Barrakuda is. You know if your opponents have played their Barrakuda cards yet or not. You know what options are available for all players and what they may be going for. You know the risks. Of course, sometimes you can get unlucky. But the games are all very quick, and I have never felt frustrated by the luck in this game.
When you do have a larger sum of money in your possession, this is when you need to decide how much you are willing to take a risk. When you are packing, it's best to visit the "One" space and bank your money. When you have less to loose, you can afford to worry a little less. But of course, this is all relative to how well the other players are doing.
The alternative treasure cards you can use allow you to add some flexibility and variety to the starting set-up. None of them drastically change the game, but that's not really needed. Everything is well balanced and clearly very well play tested. They just allow you to tailor the game to your preferences.
I like the opportunity to make small changes to the set-up and to tweak the balance slightly here-and-there. For example, you can see with the replacement “Four” card, you can claim three money instead of the usual two, but there is no general action. So, adding this card in is a good way to increase the push-your-luck element of the game. Bigger rewards, but no back-up plan. People will be tempted to go there, but will be more cautious of doing so when they think other players may do the same.
Heading to this card first up is a good way to get a head start. But will every player do this? Or will they think others will, so they go somewhere else instead? Or is that a double bluff?
This is similar with the alternative “Two” card which offers the chance to get two cards back instead of one. But again, with no back up action. If ever there is more than one person at these spaces, the chances are you may have a wasted turn. They entice you in, but may not reward you when you come. Bit like Dominos Pizza.
Playing Barrakuda is a lot of fun. There is a real sense of risk/reward felt by all players throughout the game. But it is a risk that I feel in control of. I enjoy push-your-luck games but understand how others can find the punishment from failing in these style of games to be off putting. That isn’t really a problem with this game due to the control you have. But also as the punishments never feel overly severe, and the games do run short. If you lose, just set-up and start again.
I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys quick filler games that offer a low to medium weight game experience, but still with a real sense that a game has been played. It's a bit like Fantasy Realms or Libertalia in that way. You only have a few cards to choose from, but the choice feels big. It feels important. And when it pays off, it feels great.